POLITICS

Mulcair: Harper Damaging Canada's Tourism

09/01/2015 01:25 EDT | Updated 09/01/2016 05:59 EDT

KELOWNA, B.C. — Tom Mulcair touted the NDP's plans to boost tourism and improve disaster response on Tuesday, as he toured British Columbia's wine country, a region hard hit by wildfires, drought and dwindling American tourism.

Mulcair promised to invest $30 million in Destination Canada over three years, and repeated a campaign pledge to cut the small business tax rate to nine per cent from 11 per cent.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper cut $24 million from Destination Canada — formerly the Canadian Tourism Commission — while spending $800 million on advertising to promote his own government, Mulcair said at a winery in Kelowna.

"Many small businesses across Canada, and here in the Okanagan, depend on effective tourism marketing for a stable flow of U.S. visitors," the New Democrat leader said.

"Stephen Harper is putting Canadian tourism jobs at risk."

The wine industry in the Okanagan adds more than $100 million to the local economy and creates thousands of direct and indirect jobs but the number of Americans arriving in B.C. dropped 21 per cent between 2002 and 2014, he said.

An NDP government, he said, would try to attract 4.7 million more American visitors and other tourists to B.C. and communities across Canada.

"Stephen Harper's plan isn't working," Mulcair said, using a now-familiar campaign line.

"It isn't working for Canada's economy and it isn't working for tourism."

In May, the Conservative government announced it would invest $30 million over three years in a new tourism campaign called "Connecting America" to attract more U.S. visitors to Canada.

The initiative aimed to enable Destination Canada to work with the private sector and provinces. The idea was to create or maintain about 2,900 jobs and generate an additional $400 million in incremental tourism revenue from an additional 680,000 visitors between 2015 and 2018, according to a news release at the time.

Mulcair is hoping to boost support in B.C.'s southern Interior, a largely Conservative region where the NDP made gains in the 2011 election.

He has also been promoting his plan to boost training and equipment for emergency response amid one of B.C.'s worst wildfire seasons in memory.

Fires have destroyed hundreds of square kilometres of land, and forced scores of residents to flee at a moment's notice. In Rock Creek about 200 kilometres south of Kelowna, an out-of-control blaze destroyed 30 homes last month.

Harper visited a wildfire site in Kelowna in July and promised to sit down with premiers after the fire season and assess how to improve co-ordination of resources and mitigation.

After touring Summerhill Winery on Tuesday, Mulcair repeated a promise to restore $7 million in a funding to the joint emergency preparedness program.

He promised to work with provinces to strengthen disaster financial-assistance agreements to improve response as natural disasters become more frequent.

"I want to thank the brave women and men who take extraordinary risks every day keeping Canadians' homes and their businesses safe from wildfires," he said.

"There can be no doubt that the effects of the changing climate are real, and that governments at all levels must be ready to counter disasters like these forest fires."

Mulcair also had scheduled stops in Vernon and Kamloops on Tuesday.

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